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The Great Fire

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,604 Ratings  ·  209 Reviews
Jim Murphy's Newbery Honor Book available for the first time in paperback.

"Vivid firsthand descriptions by persons who lived through the 1871 Chicago fire are woven into a gripping account... Absorbing and riveting reading." The Horn Book, starred review
Paperback, 144 pages
Published October 1st 2006 by Scholastic Paperbacks (first published 1995)
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George's Secret Key to the Universe by Lucy HawkingThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankIf You Lived Here by Giles LarocheBalloons Over Broadway by Melissa SweetCastle by David Macaulay
Best Children's Nonfiction
23rd out of 220 books — 85 voters
Charlotte's Web by E.B. WhiteElla Enchanted by Gail Carson LevineBecause of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamilloHatchet by Gary PaulsenPrincess Academy by Shannon Hale
Newbery Medal Honor Books
155th out of 318 books — 343 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Kelly O'toole
This is a non-fiction, award winning account of the Great Chicago Fire. Being a Chicagoan and a history undergraduate major, I found this topic most interesting. Most people are aware of the legend that the fire was started when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a bucket, but Murphy unravels the history of this fire and reasons behind it. Interesting one can attribute this breadth of this tragedy to class discrimination, as the fire started in a working class neighborhood, thereby perhaps not getti ...more
May 19, 2016 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So the story we think we know is NOT the story.
Murphy tells the story of the Great Chicago Fire through the people who were affected. The story is centered on four witnesses to these events -- two very journalists, a visitor, and a 12-year-old girl who is separated from her family as they were fleeing from the fire.
Murphy presents an overview of events leading up to the outbreak as well as the series of mistakes at the outset that allowed the fire to get out of hand. He captures the panic, the
Errin Tucker
Apr 13, 2012 Errin Tucker rated it it was amazing
This book is nonfiction and is written for more Advanced reader. This book is a Newberry Honor Book, Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book and NCTE Orbis Pictus Award winner for Outstanding Nonfiction.

This story was written for more advanced readers such as 5th grade and above. This story is about the major Chicago fire in 1871 that changed the lives of people forever.

I rated this story with 5 stars. There were some pictures that were hand drawn and some photographs. The story was told in
S. J.
May 14, 2013 S. J. rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone (children within the recommended age limts however)
Recommended to S. by: The Author (courtesy of another book)
*5 Stars*

Before reading another of his Children's history books, I had written off non-fiction history books labeled for Children or YA because...they JUST WEREN'T GOOD! They wrote down to their readers, as if people without at least a college education couldn't hope to comprehend anything "history". I learned history on my dad's knee and he never talked down to me. So I skipped YA and children's and when straight to reading adult books. Some were extremely difficult to get through and I never g
Kimba Tichenor
Jun 27, 2016 Kimba Tichenor rated it really liked it
This popular history reconstructs the story of the 1871 Chicago Fire largely from the perspective of those who were there. The author utilizes these first-hand accounts to highlight how a series of human errors and prejudices led to the fire's rapid spread, despite the fact at the time Chicago had one of the most sophisticated fire alarm systems of that era. This account is both entertaining and informative and is well worth the read.
This is a very different version of the story of the Chicago Fire than I have ever heard before. It uses real accounts from various people, photos, maps, and artifacts to tell the story of the errors, mistakes, and confusion that made the Chicago Fire the infamous disaster it became. Listening to this book had both its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage was the way it was read. Listening to the various accounts of actual people who were involved in the Chicago Fire read with such energy ...more
Mar 31, 2014 Bethany rated it really liked it
I still remember when I read "Blizzard" by Jim Murphy. It was August and I was working on a siding job in the blistering sun in the hot hot heat. Haha, very interesting timing to read a book about people freezing to death and 20 feet of snow etc...

Now I'm in Mongolia. How appropriate if I could say it was one of those great -30 degree days.. However, it is March, and it was lovely Spring weather. Oh well. Bad timing.

Anyway, who knew that it WASN'T Mrs. O'Leary's cow that started the great Chicag
Nov 14, 2009 Mallory rated it really liked it
Awards Won: Newbery Honor (1996)

As someone who is not a native Chicagoan, I found this book very fascinating and educational. The photographs that accompanied the narrative provided a great mental image of the destruction that Chicago faced that tragic night.

I think that this would be a great book to use when third graders learn about Chicago. The book is definitely appropriate for older readers, but could be used for a whole group read-aloud to engage the students. Other content areas could al
Caroline Siewert
Dec 07, 2015 Caroline Siewert rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book tells the story of the large fire that happened in Chicago in 1871. It is unsure just how the fire started, but regardless the fire devastated the entire city. The fire began and even the fire department could not find where it came from. Pretty soon the entire city was up in flames. It was a really windy day and the wind helped spread the fire even faster than the fire would have usually spread. There were thousands of people that were stuck in the middle of the town just looking at a ...more
Abigail Elyse
Nov 11, 2015 Abigail Elyse rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The Great Fire by Jim Murphy is a story that uses many accounts form different people and their experiences through the great fire in Chicago of 1871. The book contains various pictures, maps, and hand drawing from that time period, which add an aesthetic appeal and helped the reader stay hooked to the accurate information. Murphy tells the story of the fire using many different sources and interviews with people that lived through this fire. During which he proved the myth that a cow started th ...more
Caitlyn Su
Dec 03, 2015 Caitlyn Su rated it really liked it
The Great Fire by Jim Murphy, it is about one of the greatest disasters in the American History. This disaster all began one Sunday evening inside a barn at 137 De Koven Street. It started out as a small fire, but with the weather and the massive use of wood for structures. It turned into a huge fire and forced nearly 100,000 people to be homeless. Overnights, the flourishing city of Chicago was transformed into a wasteland. This book, is a non fiction book, which tells the true story of the con ...more
Ms. Albert
Jun 24, 2016 Ms. Albert rated it really liked it
Shelves: young-adult
This is a Newbery Honor Book, which made me want to read it. I wondered how such a slim volume about a topic that had the potential to pretty dry achieved that honor. Of course, it is because Jim Murphy is a great story teller. He focuses on real individuals who are in the midst of the fire and who later documented their experience. Then he widens his lens to give us the overall picture including such things as the errors and circumstances along the way which led to the uncontrolled spread of th ...more
Caelyn Pietila
The Great Fire written by Jim Murphy is a non-fiction story about a famous in fire in the city of Chicago that was so detrimental, nobody knew if the city could ever be built back up to what it was. This book is a chapter book that is meant for older students. I would suggest this book to fifth or sixth graders. The true meaning behind this book is the relationship between people and the community. Even though the community of Chicago was going through hard times, the people in the city all work ...more
Sherry Thornberry
This was a rather tedious read for me. I cannot say I enjoyed it per say. It was very informational and did give me a lot of facts that I didn't know about the great Chicago fire. I did find it interesting how the severity of the damage and destruction can be directly linked to a series of mistakes and unfortunate events. I also found it interesting how when the fire was finally out, the people of Chicago were not free from worry. Their water pumping station had been burnt and many residents had ...more
Jun 10, 2014 Rachael rated it really liked it
Shelves: edci-555
The Great Fire, Written by Jim Murphy, 1995, Nonfiction

The Great Fire is a nonfiction book about the Great Fire of 1871 that ravaged the city of Chicago. The text combines first hand accounts with facts and the known historical timeline to tell this event as if it were a story. Drawings, maps, and photographs are spread throughout the book with informative captions and source information. This book could be used to explain the difference between primary and secondary sources. This book would be
Stacey Cross
Mar 18, 2015 Stacey Cross rated it it was amazing
Shelves: f-informational
'The Great Fire' is an entertaining read of the events that occurred during the Chicago Fire, but written in narrative format. The content within the book is very informative and the pictures provide real life accounts of this particular time period in history. The most amazing part of this book is how the author uses maps to show how quickly the fire spread and the direction in which it took. The author did an amazing job describing the toll this terrible fire took on the city and its inhabitan ...more
Neccia Sirrine
The great fire is a book about a fire that burned a lot of the town of Chicago in 1871. The citizens of Chicago were determined to make their city a better place than it was before and it tells their story. The pictures in this book didn’t really catch my eye. I noticed at the end that I didn’t pay attention to very many of them. The maps that were drawn were sometimes annoying to have to look back a few chapters to find which place they were talking about. The font is two different colors from ...more
Dec 27, 2015 Gerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, hoopla
Who knew that Mrs. O'Leary's cow was accused by the press of starting the Chicago fire based on no evidence whatsoever, or that an official inquiry exonerated the O'Leary's (and the Chicago fire department) of any culpability? "Idle gossip hardened into fact." "A wide division between the wealthy and the poor, that was made worse by fear." Not so different from the impact of journalism today.

This short audiobook is intended for middle grade students, and is well-written, effectively narrated, a
Sep 26, 2012 Brandon rated it it was ok
This book is good for people who are interested in history, or how it happened. It was a good book but, I'm not really into history books. It jumps around a lot, so I found it really hard to know from who's point of view it was coming from.
Mao Mao
May 31, 2016 Mao Mao rated it really liked it
This book is very good because it describes the scene of the Great Fire very well. The Great Fire begun with a small fire at Chicago and because the fire station didn't get to the right place the fire spread. Dry weather and wooden buildings helped it. A strange wind went with the giant fire and blew oxygen into it which ignited the fire. The wind blew harder and harder, the fire burned harder and harder, and the wind blew harder... Finally, the fire burned up all of the wood and died down. The ...more
Jan C
Aug 19, 2014 Jan C rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: disaster, chi, library, audio, 2014
This book was knocked down in rating for the acceptance of Peg Leg Sullivan's testimony. Maybe I missed it. But I didn't hear anything definitive about the start of the fire. Now, this book may have been published before the exoneration of Mrs. O'Leary and her cow. It has been determined that Peg Leg was peeved at being cut off by O'Leary and somehow, whether on purpose or dozing off in the barn, knocked over the lantern. The City Council has absolved her of all blame.

The rest of the book was p
Nov 30, 2014 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved listening to this book. This account is fascinating. Well written and well researched. Loving Historical Fiction is a plus when reading this. Jim Murphy did a great job in identifying conflicts in the reporting of what happened. Although it read very much like a novel, there was plenty references to what is documented about this fire separating the facts from rumor. It is a great book for young readers to think about what they might do if they were in that same situation. It is great tool ...more
Jul 16, 2009 Kristen rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction-kids
Although my children & I learned about the Chicago fire from this book, we all found it to be, for the most part, very dry & boring. How many different ways can you say that a fire spread?
Lilly C.
May 24, 2015 Lilly C. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Jim Murphy's style makes non-fiction seem like fiction. I learned a lot about the Great Fire. I am super glad our school chose this book for us to read. Right now, I am reading another book by Jim Murphy, An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793.
Jim Murphy writes very detailed books. The story of survivors and actual people there enhance this book and take it to a whole nother level. This is a for certain must-read, for any age.
Jul 07, 2016 Libriar rated it really liked it
The perfect length book about the great Chicago fire. I learned a lot but was not bogged down with too much detail. I found the information about the newspaper reporting of the fire to be fascinating. It would be an excellent starting point for a discussion with middle school students about journalism. Obviously with an audio book there were no visuals so the regular book might have been a better choice. Taylor Mali narrated and did a fine job but the post-production seemed to have some issues ( ...more
Don Weidinger
Jan 21, 2015 Don Weidinger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sunday 10.8.71 5cows O’Leary hay coal shack, elevated wood walkways over soggy marshland, Saturday night fire half of 185 firefighters at also average 6/day, wrong fire alarms and poor operation, America first pumper Little Giant second, 38mph winds, fire break dynamite homes every 5 minutes, disordered in poor and rich alike, Tribune best though tar over wood roof and water supply lost pumps, miracle rain prevented spreading south, 1mile by 4mile area 17,500 buildings 300 dead, newspaper false ...more
Ann Goddard
Aug 02, 2014 Ann Goddard rated it liked it
This history of Chicago's great fire if 1871 is fairly short, to the point, and draws largely from first person accounts and later testimony from the official inquiry. It is intended for youthful audiences, but is enjoyable by any age. Having lived on the South Side of Chicago, I had wondered at the great use of brick in structures of the early 1900s; now I understand that city building codes, responding to the conflagration resulting from largely wooden city structures, tended to require the us ...more
Earl Peters
Apr 29, 2016 Earl Peters rated it it was amazing
The great fire is a riveting tale about the Chicago fire of 1871. The plot is a starts when the owner of the barn Patrick O'Leavy caught on fire that spread to devour half the city. Daniel saw the fire first but choose not to report it. Due to the numerous fires that have in the past week the fire fighters were worn down and did not have the energy to combat a fire of that magnitude. The great fire is a terrific children book because of it realistic and vivid detail of events and characters. One ...more
Apr 12, 2015 Kim rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, and the first hand accounts that went along with it of the Great Chicago Fire. I have heard so many versions of what happened, that it was eye-opening to read the actual events of that day. The maps of the devastation are jaw dropping, just to see how large of an area was destroyed. The photographs that go along with the story help to put a human face to the gravity of the situation. If I am in an older classroom, I would love to have this book as a mentor text. It could be us ...more
The Great Fire is a wonderful account of the fire that destroyed Chicago in 1871. Murphy starts with the beginning of the fire in the O'Leary's barn and takes through all the mishaps and acts of heroism that occurred during the fire. He also details the aftermath of the fire and the impact it had on the city of Chicago and its residents. Listening to the book didn't allow me to view all the wonderful images from the book, but it was a riveting story. I think Murphy's strong use of primary source ...more
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an American author of more than 35 nonfiction and fiction books for children, young adults, and general audiences, including more than 30 about American history. He won the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 2010 for his contribution in writing for teens. Jim lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, in a hundred-year-old house with his wife Alison Blank, a children’s TV produce ...more
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“The fire was barely fifteen minutes old. What followed was a series of fatal errors that set the fire free and doomed the city to a fiery death.” 2 likes
“...a single tongue of flame shooting out the side of the O'Learys' barn.
(Where the fire started)”
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